The Nice Things



When I started writing for Sky Blue Window almost three years ago, I expressed to the editor and publisher that I wanted to write my blog if I didn’t always have to be told exactly what to do. I didn’t want to just “cover” music. Instead, I wanted my writing to mirror my listening and wanted my pieces to follow my interests and curiosity. I also knew that a lifetime immersed in local music as a player, promoter and all-around cheerleader let me highlight people and music that I think make Indianapolis and Indiana great, at least from where I stand. I can’t believe they agreed, but they did, and every two weeks I surprised them with a new post.

This space gave me a great reason to talk about music with other people, which happens to be one of my favorite things in the whole world. I got to think of all the Hoosier musicians, music-makers and culture-makers that I wanted to talk about music with, and bi-weekly deadlines forced me into action. It gave me a reason to talk to Kenny Childers or Otis Gibbs about songwriting. I got to turn the tables on Kat Coplen and Dave Lindquist and ask them about music journalism. I was able to chat up the owners of my favorite record stores about how they came to create these amazing places centered around music. I had the pleasure of asking three of my favorite local deejays about their craft. What a great privilege I had to have access to insight from such talented artists and doers.

Always primed to scout out and experience Indy's cultural offerings for all ages, Ben and his arrow caught a breakdancing demonstration at the Indianapolis Museum of Art during a family-day event. - COURTESY OF BEN SHINE
  • Courtesy of Ben Shine
  • Always primed to scout out and experience Indy's cultural offerings for all ages, Ben and his arrow caught a breakdancing demonstration at the Indianapolis Museum of Art during a family-day event.

It gave me a lot of opportunity to think about how music informs my personal life and connects me to people and places. Like, how it influences my being a new parent, or, let’s be honest, how it influences my being the type of parent whose kid’s middle name is a reference to a Harry Nilsson song. Or how, in the face of loss, music helps fill a void. It inspired me to connect to a musical past that I had mostly abandoned. Mainly, it helped connect me to my home town and see it differently, which leads to my last point.

“When you talk about music, your face becomes beautiful.”

That’s a line from my favorite episode of This American Life, and a line that popped into my head over and over when I thought about this space. And it’s true. It’s true for me and it’s true for all the people I asked to talk about their favorite albums or favorite concerts. Those lists were fun to put together because it gave them a chance to think and talk about the music that is most meaningful and personal to them, and what role music played in whatever part of their life they wanted to share. Everyone has a top three list of songs, albums or lyrics that helped them grow, figure out who they are, or just helped to figure out how to really enjoy life.

We spend so much time in our lives talking about what we don’t like. We go on and on about what infuriates us about work, politics, traffic, commercial radio, annoying people, etc. I think we need to be mindful of what we like -- whether that’s music, culture or our city.

I didn’t want to be corny and reach for a Vonnegut quote to end my run, because of the ubiquity of Vonnegut in Indy lately, and because I mostly wrote about music in this space. Mainly, I don’t want to be a sourpuss, but I grew up in the Indianapolis that Vonnegut didn’t like. And, the feeling felt mutual. I grew up in a conservative, old-timey and very closed and judgmental Indianapolis, especially for arts and culture. Our newfound love of the great writer in the last few years sometimes seems a little revisionist, but maybe it’s something different. Maybe it shows me that Indianapolis has become a city that now values what it once didn’t. And maybe, it’s become the place I’ve always wanted to live in.

“And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.” There, I quoted Vonnegut. How could I not? His words are so apt.

Here’s my version and wish for Indianapolis -- I urge you to please think and talk about the things you like, whether music, books, art, food or theater. And think to yourself or scream out loud at some point: We can have nice things.

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